ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia judge issued a stay of execution on Tuesday for a convicted killer a day before he was due to be put to death, granting him a hearing over his lawyers’ requests for more DNA testing.
Marcus Ray Johnson, 46, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday for the 1994 rape and murder of Angela Sizemore in Albany, Georgia.
But Dougherty County Superior Court Chief Judge W.E. Lockette delayed the execution and set a hearing for February to determine the merits of Johnson’s request for more DNA testing. His lawyers also want a new trial.
The ruling came a day after Amnesty International urged the state to halt the execution, saying “serious doubts” remained about Johnson’s guilt, citing concerns similar to those raised by death penalty opponents over the case of Troy Davis.
Georgia executed Davis last month for the murder of a police officer in a case that drew worldwide attention because of claims by his advocates that he may have been innocent.
In the Johnson case, his attorneys say evidence including blood, saliva, hair, clothing and fingernail clippings should be tested and that the test results will raise a reasonable probability that Johnson would have been acquitted.
Defense attorneys also want time for experts to examine what they said was a new box of physical evidence that had only recently been supplied by the Albany Police Department.
Prosecutors said in court filings that Johnson’s contentions had already been rejected by state and federal courts. The state said it presented overwhelming evidence of his guilt at trial and that the DNA test results, at best, would prove Johnson was still guilty as a party to the crimes.
The Dougherty County District Attorney’s Office appealed the stay to the Georgia Supreme Court, Dougherty Superior Court Clerk Evonne Mull said. District Attorney Gregory W. Edwards did not respond to a request for comment.
Johnson is accused of killing Sizemore, 34, who was mutilated and stabbed 41 times with a small knife, according to trial testimony.
The testimony showed that Johnson met Sizemore in a bar in Albany. She had been drinking so heavily that the bar stopped serving her, a court synopsis of the case stated.
A bartender handed Johnson the keys to Sizemore’s car, and the pair left together at about 2:30 a.m. A man walking his dog discovered Sizemore’s body the next morning lying across the front seat of her car.
DNA testing matched blood on Johnson’s shirt with Sizemore’s blood, according to court records.
Johnson told police that Sizemore became angry because he did not want to “snuggle” after sex, and he punched her in the face. He said he “hit her hard” and then walked away.
“I didn’t kill her intentionally if I did kill her,” he told police.
Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston